Suck it Up and Learn Spanish Already!

No one ever said learning a new language is easy, but there’s a major problem that likely prevents most of us from getting better:

 We get in the way of ourselves

 Troy and I set out to accomplish two personal goals during our first year of full-time travel:

  1. Explore countries where we may consider setting up a home base. We don’t plan to live in Canada again any time soon, nor are we ready to “settle down” and declare a new permanent home. A few countries in Central America are on our list to scope out.
  1. Learn Spanish. We wanted to turn our basic, restaurant-ordering Spanish into an opportunity to talk to people both meaningfully and conversationally — a personal and practical accomplishment.

When we landed in Nicaragua a couple of months ago, we enthusiastically booked a week of Spanish lessons and stayed with a local family in Grenada. It was a great start. We felt confident, more informed, and walked out of that classroom feeling good.

Three months living in Central America later…Where are we at now?

We aren’t as immersed in the language as you may think. Despite living in Spanish-speaking countries, there are still enclaves where we were able to get away with speaking English. We spent three weeks in a popular ex-pat destination in Costa Rica and almost everyone spoke to us in English. We got too comfortable and we got lazy.

However, we did get some more day-to-day experiences where our Spanish skills were tested. For instance:

1) Public Transportation. We took two buses from Liberia to Tamarindo, and to San Jose where we were able to ask about bus schedules, routes, and cost, but struggled with other phrases such as confirming our stop and figuring out where we could store our bags. Nevertheless, we managed to make it to our destinations!

2) Interacting with locals. We had some maintenance and repairs done at our housesitting assignment in Costa Rica and Panama where we had to schedule the services ourselves. Fortunately, Google Translate to the rescue! It’s a great tool to verify words and sentences. Anyone visiting our home offered a great opportunity to converse in Spanish. Once I explained to the repairman that I was new to the language, we ended up having a fun conversation. The pressure was off to be accurate and have fun with it, and I learned some new words .

3) Border crossings and passport control. This is one of the more daunting tasks to conduct in a new language. We made two land border crossings from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, and Costa Rica to Panama. With a few select words, some hand signals, and mixing in a little English, we entered and exited the countries successfully. Fortunately, a local man helped us out with translating some of the instructions from the bus driver, whom he was difficult to understand.

4) Ordering a cab in Panama. I was able to explain where I was going and ask how much it cost, but I struggled with small talk. After I apologized for my limited Spanish, I managed to have a enjoyable conversation with the cab driver. He laughed at my pronunciation and it certainly lightened my mood, encouraging me to continue speaking.

So, what’s our final assessment?

We aren’t giving it 100% effort.

We need to cast aside our fear of sounding silly and just do it!

How can we improve? Troy and I agreed we need to fully commit to our Spanish and do the following:

  • Have more fun with it. When we explain we are trying to learn, it breaks the ice and people seem willing to help. We join in on some mutual laughs. More effort sometimes means enjoy it more, interesting how that works.
  • Don’t default to English. When someone starts speaking English, we’ll mention we need to practice our Spanish.
  • Practice each day using Duolingo app and book some video call lessons with our Spanish teacher.
  • (For me, in particular), stop getting frustrated when I forget how to say something — I’m still learning after all.


Do you have any tricks and suggestions for learning a new language? Let us know about your experiences. Please comment below.


About the Author Dorene

Dorene is a marketing consultant and freelance writer. She quit her 20-year career in marketing to redesign her career and lifestyle on her own terms by living location independent. Now with her husband Troy, she helps people who want to redefine their midlife and make conscious changes at TravelLifeX. She also trains & coaches travel and hospitality clients to improve their marketing at

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